SB Research Weekly January 18, 2012   

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Packaging and Sustainability - An Open Dialogue Between Stakeholders

Packaging is a hot topic in sustainability circles. The key question about packaging is the following: Given the economic and environmental costs and benefits of different materials, different designs, different applications and different logistical operations, how can we effectively manage these variables to make the most appropriate packaging decisions?

This is the question raised in a paper called “Packaging and Sustainability” published last October by Europen, The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment. I say “how can we effectively manage these variables” rather than “how can the value chain effectively manage these variables” as the paper does because I suspect many eyes glaze over at the term “value chain.” And I think that term obscures the reality that there are lots of real people involved here representing manufacturers, logistics providers, retailers, consumers and waste management companies, among others.

Packaging Presents Complicated Tradeoffs

The need to balance complicated tradeoffs is what makes packaging such a challenging area. The model above, which was reproduced in the paper and provided by Stockholm-based Innventia, a firm that conducts research and development in pulp, paper, graphic media, packaging and biorefining, shows one example of a packaging trade off. The graphic suggests that there is an optimum quantity of packaging material that does the best job of protecting both the environment and the product. It also makes the point that under-packaging, which results in product loss and waste, has a greater negative environmental impact than over-packaging.


        Solution Providers:

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This recent study by Accenture and the Charted Institute of Management Accountants make a robust case for the role of the CFO and the finance function in corporate sustainability. “Plenty of people can advise an organisation on how sustainability performance should be measured,” the report says, “But few are as convincing as the CFO when it comes to demonstrating not only what should be measured but also how this creates business value and sustainable organisations.”
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    Factoring Sustainability into IPO Planning
I will confess that this seemed to me like a whacky topic. Of all the things pre-IPO companies worry about, sustainability would seem to be low on the list. But consultant PwC begs to differ. The company says it analyzed more than 120 IPO registration statements in 2010 and early 2011 across eight industry sectors. More than 84 percent of the IPO filings, it says, had some level of disclosure relating to sustainability. Why? PwC says this reflects trend toward “corporate recognition that sustainability is both a business and sociopolitical risk and opportunity.”
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This work is licensed under a CreativeCommons License. Copyright Sustainable Life Media Inc. 2011